Sunday, May 28, 2017

How Portugal deals with drugs

Portugal’s Example: What Happened After It Decriminalized All Drugs, From Weed to Heroin | VICE News - Samuel Oakford:

April 19, 2016 - "16 years ago, Portugal took a leap and decriminalized the possession of all drugs — everything from marijuana to heroin. By most measures, the move has paid off.

"Today, Portuguese authorities don't arrest anyone found holding what's considered less than a 10-day supply of an illicit drug — a gram of heroin, ecstasy, or amphetamine, two grams of cocaine, or 25 grams of cannabis. Instead, drug offenders receive a citation and are ordered to appear before so-called 'dissuasion panels' made up of legal, social, and psychological experts. Most cases are simply suspended. Individuals who repeatedly come before the panels may be prescribed treatment, ranging from motivational counseling to opiate substitution therapy.

"'We had a lot of criticism at first," recalled [João] Goulão, a physician specializing in addiction treatment whose work led Portugal to reform its drug laws in 2000, and who is today its national drug coordinator.... 'Now things have changed completely,' he went on. 'We are pointed to as an example of best practices'....

 "The rate of new HIV infections in Portugal has fallen precipitously since 2001, the year its law took effect, declining from 1,016 cases to only 56 in 2012. Overdose deaths decreased from 80 the year that decriminalization was enacted to only 16 in 2012. In the US, by comparison, more than 14,000 people died in 2014 from prescription opioid overdoses alone. Portugal's current drug-induced death rate, three per million residents, is more than five times lower than the European Union's average of 17.3, according to EU figures.

"When Portugal decided to decriminalize in 2000, many skeptics assumed that the number of users would skyrocket. That did not happen. With some exceptions, including a marginal increase among adolescents, drug use has fallen over the past 15 years.... Portuguese officials estimate that by the late 1990s roughly one percent of Portugal's population, around 100,000 people, were heroin users. Today, 'we estimate that we have 50,000, most of them under substitution treatment,' said Goulão....

"Drugs are still illegal in Portugal, drug dealers and traffickers are still sent to jail, and the country has carefully kept itself within the confines of the UN's drug convention system that inform national drug laws....

"Though heroin use is often highlighted to show the efficacy of Portugal's model, today most users that come before panels are in fact caught with either hashish or cannabis, said Nuno Capaz, a sociologist who serves on Lisbon's dissuasion panel. Between 80 to 85 percent of all people who report to the panels are first-time offenders and deemed to be recreational users, meaning their cases are suspended. For those who have been repeatedly caught or are identified as addicts, the panels can order sanctions or treatment. Recreational users may face fines or be ordered to provide community service....

"Goulão cautioned that countries had to consider their own domestic environments first ... 'but in my view ...'to have it out of the penal system is a clear improvement. It was really important for our society because it allowed us to drop the stigma.'"

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